So, You Want to be a Writer?

Some of my favourite books

Some of my favourite books – I’d love for my name to be here one day. Don’t you want the same?

You poor, poor fool.

I’m just kidding. Kind of. Regardless of how old you are, where you’re from or what you currently do, you’ve got a burning desire to tell stories and that just isn’t being fulfilled right now.

Maybe you’re writing something in your spare time; novels, short stories, poems, scripts and such. Maybe you want to but don’t know where to start. Well, I can’t tell you I’m an expert on the subject since, you know, I’m (at this stage but if you read this years later I may be) not a published author right now.

What I do have are experiences, insights and tidbits of information that may help in some way. I’m going to share these with you here. They won’t make you a writer but if it helps you pick up that pen or open that word processor, I’m counting it as a win.

What a better way to start 2016’s blogging than this? Precisely.

You’re a writer. Deal with it

Not everyone has a problem with this but it can come up every now and then. Calling yourself a writer – or having someone else call you it – is fine, but actually feeling like one is something completely different.

Maybe it brings a sense of pressure to produce or do something. Perhaps you feel guilty because it doesn’t feel like a job or bring the same stability other careers do. Or, you might just find it frees you and you can relax at last.

Whatever it is, you’re going to have to deal with it. It comes down to feeling comfortable with who you are, maybe not your entire being but this aspect of it. It might strike early on or later, but just remember, you’re not alone. Proof of being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be the next Tolkien, King or Rowling – far from it. Just be yourself, write the way you want to and, most of all, enjoy it!

Plan, plan, plan and plan some more

It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s mind numbing.

Sound familiar? Then you’re doing it wrong. Planning your work is the first step of a challenging, rewarding and enjoyable process. I love writing books but at the same time, short stories and blogging are hugely enjoyable. Each needs different levels of planning and it’s different for everyone.

My novels need a lot of planning. I develop characters, settings, plots and subplots usually before writing anything (although sometimes I write little extracts that do or do not feature in the story later). Once I understand the world I’m writing in, I start. My plan is usually a list of points per chapter and I play connect the dot. Whether you storyboard, mind map (or whatever the PC term is for it now) or use audio notes, it helps keep you on track.

Short stories need less planning but just as much research. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. On the flipside, if you get a flash of inspiration, go with it and then come back to your plans later, then work out how to use it.

Writing is actually fun!

Yes! Yes, it really is. It’s the most enjoyable part of it, but if you’re doing this solely to make money, turn around right now and pick another career.

Don’t get me wrong, we all (those of us who choose this) want to earn a living as a writer but if you’re writing for money, your writing will suffer because it’s not what you want to do. People are smarter than you think and they can see through the façade, so write honestly, about something you like and are passionate about, and the success will come.

I’m a great believer in the best job is the one you love doing, day in and day out. If you enjoy writing, whether its books, poems, web content, blogging – whatever – you’ll write better, build a bigger and more genuine audience and achieve the goals you want.

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself

It’s the ‘p’ word again – no, not publishing/ers. Pressure. It’s one of the biggest killers to any good story or project. If the pressure mounts up and you can’t deal with it, you’ll come across that infamous writers block.

I’m no believer in ‘writers block’ although I do use it as an umbrella term. There are a number of reasons why you might suffer from it. Pressure is one, tiredness and stress are others. A lack of focus or concentration, illness and many other factors can all stop you in your tracks.

Social media can be a big one. Too much time mindlessly clicking on Facebook’s timeline or Twitter’s newsfeed can destroy hours and days and – whoops – you’ve lost a week, then a month. That’s when the pressure builds. It’s a vicious cycle but if you put small steps in place to build a routine, you’ll get there.

Don’t get me wrong, some days you’ll write 20 words and others 5,000 but that’s okay. I try to write for at least one hour every day. The routine helps.

Find real feedback

This is tricky. Real, constructive feedback is essential to help you grow as a writer, and to develop your work. Other writers are great but they can often be busy. Readers are good but a reader doesn’t always make for good critic.

AVOID family and friends. They’ll have the best of intentions, no matter what you say to them beforehand, about what you expect and would like from them. You’ll get a “it was really good” or “I really enjoyed it” and that’s about it. Occasionally, you’ll dig and dig and dig and get a little nugget but it’s not worth THAT level of effort.

Find a writing group, in person or online – they exist everywhere. Follow the rules and be respectful. You won’t always like or agree with what they say but it’s for you to decide how to use that criticism. Throwing it back in someone’s face and going in a huff won’t help you and you’ll find feedback disappearing.

There are rules. Follow them or don’t – it’s your call

Every genre of writing has rules. So does every medium or format. Some people will tell you to stick to them at all costs while others will tell you not to worry and break them whenever you want. In the end, you have to decide.

It depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your writing, the genre, context and so much more – it’s why planning and research are important. It will help you figure out which rules to follow (if any) and feedback will help prove or disprove your decisions. Be willing to adapt to meet the story and expectations of your reader to an extent. It’s a very fine line.

At the end of the day, it’s your call.

Editing…

It’s. So. Much. Fun.

Not.

However, it’s essential. You’ve written your book or script or poetry collection and you send it off straight away, so proud you’ve done it. Now you just have to wait for the phone to ring for hours on end with publishers offering you deals. Right?

Wrong.

You’ll make mistakes – spelling and grammar included, no matter how hard you try to spot them – and there will be plot holes, lines that don’t make sense to anyone but you. This is why you need to edit your work. Read it over and over and over again, and then get someone else to proof it as well. The repeat. Iron out those mistakes BEFORE you send it anywhere. It might take a full year to do this. Be patient.

Publishing, agents and rejection

There’s so much to say on this but you are going to face more rejection than you are success – at least, early in your career. The worst thing is, it’s not always just plain rejection. Sometimes you hear nothing at all in the months you’re waiting. It’s awful but that’s the way it is.

Get used to ‘no.’ It might be in a nice way but that’s what it is. Dust off and try again. It takes many, many tries to get someone to even acknowledge you. So many writers have what could be successful books or stories and give up after a few no’s.

Bear in mind, a ‘few’ in this instance can be hundreds. It only takes one yes, however. For more info on dealing with rejection, check this post out when you get a chance. It might open your eyes a little more.

Further Reading

Hey, look! Homework!

There’s so much reading you can do, from people like me to the ones who have done it. It’s important to remember that you’re not me, and you’re not them. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else so don’t get caught up on an idea if it doesn’t work out.

That being said, it can’t hurt to know about what people have gone through and use it to help, if you can. I’ve started you off, or given you some encouragement (or maybe I’ve put you off entirely – sorry!).

Either way, it’s a long and hard journey ahead of you. Stick with it and you’ll get there. Honest.

I read this article recently, on how to smash through seven writing roadblocks writers come across at various times. It’s quite interesting and worth a read, either now or later.

Good luck!

Advertisements

The Joys of Editing

So, as I mentioned last time. I’ve been kind of here and there lately. I lost my job in June and spent the summer getting another one. That’s done and while it’s a very good job and I’m really enjoying it, it is causing challenges.

The time it takes to travel to and from work is much longer now than I’ve been used to since finishing uni…actually, since I started working eleven years ago! This is tiring for me and I don’t want my life to be work, write, sleep and repeat. I’m still trying to get that balance.

One thing I have been doing is writing.

I’ve been putting off editing my novel thus far – I’m just not ready. So, when I’ve finished the draft of my current project (which involves a fair bit of editing) I’ll come back to it and take another look and decide whether the time is right.

After discussions with a few friends and writers, it’s interesting to see the different ways of editing a project so I thought I’d take a look here.

Digital vs print

When it comes to editing, I find it very difficult to do on a screen. I find that my eyes start glazing over after a while, which makes me miss even the most obvious mistakes. When I notice this happening while I’m writing, I know it’s time to take a break since, for me, it’s easier to get on a roll while writing compared to editing. It’s a big problem.

My method is generally a quick once over to spot glaring mistakes and then I print it. In its entirety. I find a pen (of any colour though red is a popular choice) and make notes. Scratch out words and letters, put arrows to rearrange things, make notes to re-write parts and a lot more. I find this is also good to help me escape the increasingly digital centric world we live in.

It’s amazing the things I can spot – and often ask myself how thick I am to make such a silly mistake in the first place!

I’ve found a lot of people actually agree with me on this and do something similar although some handle editing digitally better than me. Kudos to you all.

It leads on to the second part of the discussion, however.

How long should you wait?

This is actually more fascinating and there’s a much bigger divide here.

So, let me pose you the question: how long should you wait upon completing your draft and beginning to edit it again?

Unless I’m faced with a tight deadline (possibly due to being lazy or a change of plans) I try not to edit anything without giving it at least a month’s breathing time. This is because I feel like I’m too close to it. When I read a book and pick up mistakes, it’s because of a fresh set of eyes. The more often I read a book, the less mistakes I notice. I become used to it, and know what to expect.

Editing is a ruthless business and I can’t afford that luxury. Every word is at risk, as is every letter. When I finish a draft, for both writing and editing, I put a reminder in my calendar for a month later as that’s when I can go back to it.

Other people are different. I’ve been told by people who don’t wait and dive straight in. Their minds are still on that level and they feel more comfortable keeping it there. I’ve tried it but it’s not for me. A few people have told me they send it to others after every draft. That can slow things down and I only do that when I’m at a stage where I don’t mind people reading it.

It’s very interesting to find out how we all work.

Going forward

In the end, I know what works for me and that’s the most important thing. Every writer is different but it can take a long time to figure out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new – especially at different times as we don’t stand still for long.

The blog has been left alone recently and I apologise for that but I’m starting to get my act together. Having a plan/schedule makes a huge difference! Be sure to keep checking back for the latest news and thoughts.

I’m writing a lot more short stories at the moment and there are a lot of competitions coming up over the remainder of 2015 and going into 2016. I’ll be sure to share the best ones with you soon so you know what to start working for.

As always, good luck!

Regarding NaNoWriMo

I’ve been taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year for the last ten, eleven, twelve years or more. This year, however, I won’t be getting involved. I just don’t have the time or energy to commit to it.

While I would use it as a kick to keep on with my current project, I’m hoping to have it done by November (wishful thinking) and I’m happier going at my own pace now.

I’ve completed it once, back in 2010, and that was a great feeling but since then I haven’t had the same level of motivation, which is a shame. I’m not even entirely sure why yet. Maybe it was the challenge of doing it? Who knows.

If you’ve ever thought about, I’d definitely recommend getting involved. Find people in your area doing it and get involved with the meet-ups. You’ll meet some people you won’t forget any time soon!

Why Writers Make Incredible Friends

Hey guys, just a short one tonight. I’m going to have a longer post for you after the Easter weekend but this was something I found interesting and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

I was contacted last week by someone who came across my blog. They found this post from the New Year where I linked to an external article – shock horror! This person linked me to an infographic they made about why writers make incredible friends, and I guess I’m a little biased but I’d have to say it’s true!

I’m cautious of many approaches to my blog about this kind of stuff – I want it to be valuable to you guys and avoid spammy linkbuilders, as I detail here – but this seems interesting. My favourites are numbers 4, 6 and, of course, 8!

Just for the record, I’m not bigging myself – or other writers – up here. I’m selective of my friends as it is, and I like to think I’m a good friend too but that’s not to say non-writers are crap friends as they’re really not. The labels don’t really help here, I guess.

As always, you’ll have to judge for yourself but everyone should have at least one writer friend!

Why Writers Make Incredible Friends infographic